Tina Lassen, a travel writer from Oregon, doesn’t mince words. Frankly I think she found my behavior on board Don Chancey’s flat bottomed fishing boat too cold-blooded for her taste. This explains why she is now calling me the “salt water assassin.”
We were spending a glorious Florida day fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, just a few miles off the coast of Homosassa in Citrus County where the gulf water is shallow. Don was the captain of our vessel, the Grouper Hunter and rounding out the group was the adorable and charming Peter Sacco, who writes for the travel website gonomad.com.
The afternoon of fishing had been arranged by Danielle Ackerman of Citrus County tourism and while we were delighted to go out on a boat, none of us approached the prospect of angling with much more than a tepid journalist curiosity. For an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery and view the local wildlife under a cloudless sky, I’ll hold a fishing pole, a golf club or whatever else is put in my hand. No problem.
But it wasn’t long after Capt Don instructed us on how to cast without impaling each other that I was hooked. I could not get enough of trying to persuade those fish to chomp onto the end of my line. Two hours later, I was begging for “just one more cast,” never mind that we had five plump, dinner-sized speckled trout in the cooler.
So this is how the afternoon played out. Don and Peter and I were pulling up fish after fish, the majority of which had to be tossed back in the sea because they were too small to keep. But every now and then, just enough to give all of us hope that our luck was turning, a big one would take the bait and we shrieked and whooped it up as if we’d invented the sport of fishing.
This area of the gulf is known for a few good eating fish and each time Tina would hold the net to help us bring our catch on to the boat we’d be making optimistic assessments that this little bugger would be either a redfish, bass or trout and equally important, big enough to keep.
Capt. Don would toss the fish on the ruler and pronounce judgment; either by dropping the fish back into the gulf or hooray! a well-aimed pitch into the cooler. We had skin in the game – though not as much as the fish – since Danielle arranged that our catch would be our dinner.
These fishing charter captains are a talented lot. Not only did they instruct the neophytes on how to catch fish, they piloted the boats, acted as guides to the sea life and cleaned and filleted the fish on our return to the Riverside marina.
By the time the cooks at Riverside Crab House got their hands on those fish, we were very excited about dinner.
The tourism folks brag that the fishing on Florida’s west central coast is “fabled” and judging from the number of fishing boats available for hire at the half a dozen marinas in the area, the secret to great fishing in the Nature Coast is apparently not such a secret anymore. Still, fishing is an important part of the county’s attempt to, dare-I-say beef up its identity as a place for a natural vacation experience.
Marla Chancey, who is the director of tourism for Citrus County as well as Capt. Chancey’s wife, has an interesting view of her job. “It’s not about getting more people into town,” she told me after our bellies were full of our own caught-with-pride fried, broiled and blackened catch. “It’s about providing the best experience for eco-tourists.”
That means, presumably, presenting visitors with a broad range of experiences from swimming with manatees to biking former rail trails, or even going out on a boat and getting in touch with one’s inner assassin.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.